Commuting on a Bicycle in Bangalore

Nikhil Rasiwasia
7 min readJan 4, 2020

June’17 — My response to the hiring manager post-interview with Amazon, “I can’t join Amazon. I will be moving to a new home near Sarjapur Junction, and the office will be 21 km from my home. With Bangalore traffic, I won’t survive a month.”

(Somehow, Amazon was able to convince me to join)

June’19 — After spending two years with Amazon, over lunch with my hiring manager, “Ironically, the best thing I like about working at Amazon is my commute. It has made me more healthy, hearty and happy.”

To anyone in Bangalore, this might sound like sarcasm but it is true. I have ridden 5200 kilometers on my bicycle since I joined Amazon in August’17 — equivalent to riding from Ankara, Turkey to New Delhi, India, or Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida. My office is 21 km from my home. I ride my bicycle form near Sarjapur Junction to Jaynagar metro station, thrice a week. A ~11.5 km ride one-way which takes about 40–45 mins depending on the traffic conditions. Thereafter, a 25 min metro ride to Sandal Soap Factory metro station and I am in the office in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. A total commute time of 2 hours 30 minutes per day, with 1 hour 30 mins being the bicycling time covering ~23 km. In addition to the health benefits, both physical and mental, it has given me bragging rights and a lot of Oh! Wow! expressions. I was on the other side when I joined Amazon. Bicycling a distance of 5 km one-way was something I was struggling with. I was inspired by Ashish Kulkarni (covered by Economic Times) who was my colleague at Amazon and was doing ~20 km one-way rides — a distance I thought was possible only if you are gifted. I did my ~20 km one-way ride to office last month, without much after effects.

I do get a lot of questions regarding commuting on a bicycle in Bangalore. While it seems like people are interested to ride a bicycle, but there is an some hesitation which prevents them from making the move. In the rest of the post, I am jotting down some of the frequently asked questions around bicycle commute in Bangalore and my responses to them. Even if it helps convert one person to commute on a bicycle, it would be an immense pleasure for me.

Q1: Is it safe to ride a bicycle in Bangalore?
Short Ans: It is.
Ans
: This is the most common question I get. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Safety is a very subjective feeling. My response to this is three-fold. One — I have never felt unsafe. I do keep my bicycle in good condition — have headlamps, rear lights, helmet, and it has helped me get confidence that I am in control. Other commuters are (surprisingly) respectful of bicycles. There have been times when other cars/bikes have come uncomfortably close, but that does not happen too often. Two — statistically speaking, in the 5200 kms I have clocked, I have had only one minor fall in Bangalore (ironically one another minor fall happened in Seattle). I would call that safe. Three — the only way to know if it is safe for you, is for you to try it. Please, rent/borrow/buy and try it for yourself. You might be surprised.

Q2: Where do you park your bicycle?
Short Ans: Parking lot at metro stations.
Ans:
While this was never a major thought for me, I do get this question very often. The sad part is that most metro stations don’t have parking for bicycles. I have fought with security guards at a couple of metro stations where there is parking space for metro employees. I don't understand why they can’t allow bicycles. Fortunately, there are some metro stations with dedicated parking. Jayanagar is one of them. The other alternative is to find a private parking lot nearby and pay the security guard to take care of the bike (I have done that in the past).

Q3: What about the safety of the bicycle?
Short Ans: It is safe.
Ans:
The only thing I have lost to theft is a bicycle computer that I had forgotten on the bicycle. Other than that, I am fairly confided that no one fiddles around with the bicycle. I have a number lock and I do note the number I leave it with. In the evening I find that the number is the same. Sometimes, I do see the front gear lower than I left it at, but that is not a major concern. In fact, I have left my bicycle unlocked at the parking lot, informing the guard, as I had forgotten my lock.

Q4: Where do you shower?
Short Ans: I don’t.
Ans:
I do take a change of T-shirt and change it in the metro bathroom after splashing my face and head with water. The 25 min metro ride dries me up :). I really don’t feel the need for a shower when I reach the office. No one has ever complained/informed me either, that I smell at office, so, so far so good. The alternative is to take a shower at the office, which I know some cyclists do.

Q5: Don’t you feel tired at the office or home?
Short Ans: No. I feel more energetic both at the office and at home.
Ans:
Mathematically speaking, spending energy to burn 800 calories a day riding a bicycle should leave me with an energy deficit, but I *definitely* have much more energy now than I had two years ago. The only major change in life is bicycling. And Amazon of course, but I am pretty sure it is not Amazon that is giving me the extra energy :P.

Q6: But it is so polluted, isn't that bad for health?
Short Ans: Not if you invest in a good mask.
Ans:
I highly recommend to buy a good pollution mask. I have the Techno Plus Mask from Respro which I highly recommend. It has very efficient valves for heavy breathing. It is a military-grade mask that has made my bicycling in Bangalore possible. I don’t feel the fumes/dust most of the time. Another statistic that might help remove any disbelief — I was sick more than 40–50 days in 2017, ~30 days in 2018, ~7 days in 2019, in spite of the increased bicycling in Bangalore pollution.

Q8: What do you do when it rains?
Short Ans: Mostly it does not rain. When it does I get wet.
Ans:
There have been 4–5 days in a year when rain prevented me from bicycling to work. Thankfully in Bangalore, it mostly rains in the evening. While I will not like the feeling of entering the office drenched in rain, but riding in the rain in the evening, coming back home, is fun. I do have a good rain jacket and rain-cover for my bag which keeps my torso and laptop dry.

Q9: Which cycle do you have?
Short Ans: Trek FX 7.3
Ans:
I have over time realized that if I buy something, it is better to go for the best quality (within a stretched personal reasonable limit). Else, it is better not to buy it. I am very happy that I invested in a great bicycle. It was a gift from my wife. I wanted to go for the FX 7.2, but the dealer gave me a big discount on the 7.3 as he was not able to sell it for a while. I paid 40K INR for an MRP of 55K (although I would have spent an additional ~25K in service and accessories). The bicycle is going very strong, and I don’t feel a real need to upgrade. Of course, if someone gifts me a lighter and more efficient bicycle, I won’t have the heart to say no.

Q10: What should I be careful about? (No one has actually asked me this)
Short Ans: Be careful when riding against one-way traffic and crossing intersections.
Ans:
The only times I need to be extra careful is when I am riding against one-way traffic (to save on distance) or crossing an intersection. It is at these times that I feel other commuters treat bicyclists as pedestrians. They expect me to stop as if it is their right of way. Going against the flow I know that I don’t have the right of way and I (fail to) try to control my ego, but on an intersection, if I need to go straight and someone needs to turn left, they expect me to stop, which I don't. While this has not to lead to any accidents (they always stop at the last moment), I have been in some verbal fights for this reason.

Q11: Anything else that you might want to add? (No one has actually asked me this)
Ans:
Seriously guys, I don’t see *any* reason that you don’t bicycle in Bangalore weather if your office is less than 5kms. Please start bicycling to the office from tomorrow. I promise it will not take you more than 20 mins (vs. the 30+ minutes you would be spending in bad traffic. The other benefits of improved health, improved energy, improved state of mind, and a coolness factor will really make it worth it.

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